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Spiritual and Religious Competencies – food for thought

Spiritual and Religious Competencies for Health Care Professionals

By Cassandra Vieten, et al

Adapted for coaches and coaching supervisors by Dede Osborn, MA, BCC, Dip CS

Although this research was based on a U.S. sample and U.S. cultural values, as coaching grows as a profession globally, multi-cultural competencies in spiritual and religious beliefs and practices will probably become more important and in sometimes surprising ways.

Some years ago, I was working in leadership development in Mexico with lower level supervisors in a multi-national organization. When we came to the process of planning, goal setting, and accountability (an International Coaching Federation—ICF–core competency for coaches), it became clear that the concept was simply too foreign to these participants in Mexico. After all, individuals don’t set goals and objectives when the culture says that God/fate determines our futures and we are relatively powerless to change our lives.

It would seem to be helpful to begin a conversation about the challenges of coaching and coaching supervision in a non U. S., non Christian world.

Three basic activities of multicultural competencies are as follows:


  1. To engage in the process of becoming aware of one’s own assumptions about human behavior, values, biases, preconceived notions, personal limitations and so forth;
  2. To attempt to understand the worldview of culturally different clients without judgment
  3. To be able to share relevant and sensitive comments and strategies with culturally different clients.

Proposed spiritual and religious competencies:


  1. To demonstrate empathy, respect, and appreciation for clients from diverse spiritual, religious, or secular backgrounds
  2. To view spirituality and religion as important aspects of human diversity, along with factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
  3. To be aware of when our spiritual and/or religious background and beliefs may influence our coaching practice as well as our attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions about the nature of the coaching process and outcomes.


  1. To explore and learn about spiritual and /or religious beliefs, communities and practices that are important to our clients
  2. To understand how spirituality and religion are overlapping yet distinct constructs
  3. To recognize that spiritual and religious beliefs and practices develop and change over the lifespan
  4. To be aware of spiritual or religious resources and practices that might be supportive of the client’s coaching work
  5. To be able to identify legal and ethical issues related to spirituality or religion that might surface when working with clients


  1. To be able to conduct empathic and effective contracting conversations with clients from diverse spiritual or religious backgrounds
  2. To be able to inquire about a client’s experience, attitudes and beliefs as a part of understanding the client’s history
  3. To help clients explore and access their spiritual and religious strengths and resources
  4. To be able to identify when to refer clients for spiritual or religious support
  5. To engage in an ongoing assessment of one’s own spiritual and religious competence
  6. To recognize the limits of our qualifications and competence…instead of avoiding this domain of spirituality and religion when it arises, ethics indicate that coaches should consult or refer when an issue is beyond their expertise

The greater question is how can we help our clients integrate or respond to emergent transcendent experiences? (i.e. feel comfortable speaking of their ‘soul’s journey’) After all, having a spiritual/religious identity has also been linked to an increased sense of meaning, purpose, resilience, satisfaction, happiness, and general psychological health. But how are Brazilian spiritual roots the same or different from Mexican spirituality? What assumptions do we make about clients who are more fundamentalist or indigenous in their beliefs?

I believe that as we become more conscious, aware, and developed as coaches, we also become more spiritual. As we search for meaning in our coaching conversations we can use more inner awareness of our projections and assumptions as well as to become more sensitive and responsive to our clients who have different spiritual and religious beliefs and practices.

[This framing and summary is intended for discussion purposes only and is not for public distribution.]

1 “Spiritual and Religious Competencies in Clinical Practice: Guidelines for Psychotherapists and Mental Health Professionals”; Vieten, Cassandra PhD; Sept. 2015 (With permission of Cassandra Vieten PhD) Practice/dp/1626251053/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474484844&sr=1- 1&keywords=spiritual+and+religious+competencies

CSA graduate, Dede Osborn, Cell 508 341 3894

February 1, 2017